When Mark (Joe Doherty) came on stage, ranting and swearing like a talking bulldog, I thought Bones would leave me checking my watch every ten seconds, dying to run out of Tristan Bates Theatre and back home. When Mark started describing different ways to can kill a baby, it felt like an urban, street version of that episode of Friends when Chandler is left alone in a theatre with a woman going on about her tiresome life, period and divorce for three hours.
But then something happened – Doherty suddenly changed his attitude and went soft for a glimpse of a second. The anger gave way, just for a moment, to something very dark, deep and truthful. From then on, I was utterly hooked, with no chance of escaping the disturbing and raw tragedy of this young man’s life.
Mark doesn’t have much. He lives with his mother, who has given up her life and spirit to alcohol, prostitution and a screaming baby. “She doesn’t feel like my mum. She doesn’t do stuff mums do. She gets leathered and smacked up and tries to shag my friends”. Even so, he won’t leave her and is desperate to sort her life out – beginning with getting rid of the new baby. Mark doesn’t have a job, doesn’t know his father and finds escape in drinking too much at the pub and getting cheap blowjobs in the dark corners of abandoned streets. He’s violent, angry and initially not very likeable – but as the play goes on and he confesses what has led him to his current place, the audience are drawn into his shattered life.
It is a huge task being in charge of a one man show. You are on stage all the time, have to interact with the audience, and must construct the whole story with only your words. Doherty masters all of this, and is superb as the tough but insecure Mark. People like Mark don’t get sympathy – but Doherty manages to get his audience past the barrier, revealing a frightened and heartbreakingly vulnerable boy. There is a truth in Doherty’s acting that carries the whole piece, as Mark struggles between keeping up the armour and opening up his heart. I found myself leaning forward, shocked and completely lost to the words and pains of Doherty’s Mark. Doherty showed off his amazing talent by transforming completely when the lights went on, showing a humble and sweet actor who’s clearly worked very hard for his profession.
Jane Upton’s play is raw, dark and honest and she has a great eye for detail – things you didn’t quite understand are beautifully brought back later on, and the holding back of final explanations secures the thrill and nasty taste of the play. Laura Ford and Angharad Jones’ direction is clear, sharp and spot on, and Nathan Rose’s cold and unfriendly set design gives us the feeling of Mark’s world shutting him out, leaving him in a distant and suffocating atmosphere. Bones is strong, precise and brutally honest, telling the story of a young man’s fears and his struggle against a world that won’t support him.
Bones is playing at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden until 3 November. For more information and tickets, see the Tristan Bates Theatre website.